A week in Gower

Following on from my retro-blog the other week about A week in Filey, I thought I’d follow up with a review of our September holiday in the Gower Peninsular.

As I mentioned last time, we’d seen the Britain’s 10 best dog-friendly beaches list, and there, hogging the limelight at #1 was Rhossili Bay, Swansea which it described as

Let’s start with a real classic. This spectacular sandy beach offers miles of pristine sand at the tip of the Gower Peninsula in west Wales. There’s enough space for dogs to run free and there’s usually a good selection of kites to bark at. The beach even has its own shipwreck – the remains of the Helvetta, wrecked in 1887.

Well that sounded pretty good, and coupled with the fact that Rhossili Bay, and nearby Oxwich Bay also made it into our Time Out Seaside book, a book which had previously resulted in us enjoying visits to Bedruthan Steps, Praa Sands, Kynance Cove and St Ives Bay in Cornwall, and Saunton Sands in Devon, it sounded like an area that we could happily explore for a week.

Our holiday home

Our criteria for accommodation was similar to last time, dog-friendly (obviously), a decent kitchen (after eating in quite a lot in Filey), a bathroom with a bath (we only have a shower at our house so a bath is a lovely holiday luxury), a garden area and opportunities for walks from the front door. After quite a lot of searching around, we settled on Three Elms, in Middleton. This was a large house, much bigger than our home in Brighton, with a really pleasant feeling to it. There was bookshelf after bookshelf of books, and good books too. The sofa in the living room was long enough to lie out on and while away a few hours reading one of the books, or having a well-deserved afternoon nap. I say well-deserved as most days found us out walking Skitters along beaches, or moors, or both. The only thing we’d forgotten to check was the dog-friendliness of the nearby pub (a 10 minute walk away). It wasn’t, so we ate in most evenings, or stopped off on our way back after a walk. There was also a lack of grocery shopping for anything other than absolute essentials, resulting in us heading to Swansea to find
supplies. The grocery shop at Scurlage stocked enough for us to top up on things like bread, milk and basic vegetables, and the fish and chip shop next door, Chips Ahoy, provided us with a good helping of fish and chips.

Grass on sand

We visited both Rhossili beach and Oxwich bay and can testify to them being beautiful and long and clean. But my favourite beach was actually Whiteford burrows. We approached this area through the pine plantation, walking through trees with sand surrounding their roots and trunks. Really beautiful, tranquil and there were very few other people around. Definitely worth an explore if you’re ever out that way. The scenery is a bit reminiscent of Cornwall, only with all the beaches being much closer together – for instance you can walk between Oxwich Bay and Three Cliffs Bay along the beach when the tide is out, visiting two beautiful areas at once. It is also much less crowded than Cornwall, at least in early September. A week is long enough to visit the majority of the dog friendly beaches, and to take in some really good walks. It is an area that I can definitely see me returning to after a few years for another week of exploration.

Rhossili Bay

Horse trotting off into the distance

As usual, there are lots more photos on flickr.

Geek Wine Thing – La aventura Española

On Tuesday evening Richard and I headed off to the Hotel du Vin for our first Geek Wine thing in quite some time. This one was the second of the new format Geek Wine Things, now being organised and orchestrated by Fergus De Wit and James Reina from Majestic Wine.

There were 8 wines for tasting, 4 white and 4 red, made up of 4 classics and 4 bright young things.

8 glasses for tasting from

It was a great evening, and as when in the Hunter Valley recently, I made a series of notes. These are made up of “wine facts” and tasting notes. Some of the more useful are:

  • The Spanish wine system is really focussed on the aging process – so Reserva and Gran Reserva have clearly defined meanings on a bottle of Spanish wine. This isn’t the case when these words are applied to many other nations wines
  • Good vintages for Rioja are 2001 and 2004
  • The younger a red wine, is the more breathing time it is likely to need
  • When thinking about wine and food matching, a good hint is to choose the kind of food that is served where the wine is made
  • If you buy a Spanish Reserva or Gran Reserva, then you’re probably on to a winner

Checking the colour

Out of the white wines, my favourite was the first we tasted. This was Albariño Martin Codax 2008 Rias Baixas. Albarino wasn’t a wine that I’d knowingly tasted before, and is indigenous to that particular area of Spain. It was described as being a good halfway house between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

Wine #5

Out of the red wines, there were 2 that I really liked. These were Emilio Moro 2006 Ribera del Duero and Muriel Gran Reserva 1996. The Ribera del Duero is an up and coming wine area, and the Emilio was a lovely drink. The recommendation was to buy two bottles, drink one now and bury one in the bottom of your garden for 3 to 5 years to age further. Apparently Robert Parker gave it a score of 92 – which marks it out as being a good buy. The Muriel is ready for drinking now and was a lovely smooth wine. As Richard said, if either of these were served to us we’d be delighted.

Apparently, Majestic are running a promotion on Spanish wines next month, so I’m sure we’ll be heading down there to pick up some of these for our drinking pleasure.

In Hunter Valley

Two-ish hours north-ish of Sydney is the wine destination of Hunter Valley where we spent a lovely couple of days with Lisa, Mitül, Ash, Jono and Anna.

If you drink a little wine from time to time you’ll recognize the name “Hunter Valley”, but it turns out there’s just a handful of boutique vineyards left here.  The region contributes just two per cent of all Australian wine.  The upshot is: it’s tourism that’s the real industry in Hunter Valley.

These facts were given to us by our tour guide and minibus driver, James. He’s an English ex-pat, and former travel agent, with a brisk, dry manner and cavalier attitude to driving. I liked him a lot.  He’d take us over dirt roads to some great wine tastings, prepping us on the eccentricities of the owners, while we bounced around in the back of the bus.

With four vineyards to hit in the day we needed to make at start  at 10am.  Kicking off a wine tour so soon after breakfast wasn’t something I’d fully thought through—I’m not yet at that stage of life where I wake up thinking I could really do with a nice glass of red.  However, when the minibus arrived and we climbed on-board the immediate concern switched to defending ourselves from the hoard of mosquitoes in the minibus.   “Are there mosquitoes back there?” asked James in a tone of surprise that suggested he knew damn well there was, had a pretty good idea of how they got there, but wasn’t comfortable explaining the cause. I may have read too much into his tone.   Not that it mattered much, as we’d nailed most of them by the time we arrived at our first vineyard, Ernest Hill.

Jane made notes on the wines, so I don’t have to mention them, other than to say there were some lovely wines, once you get passed the problem of tasting wine while minty toothpaste still lingers in your mouth.  That problem goes away pretty quicky, but for me was replaced with a different problem.  How much wine was I drinking?

I’ve started using the NHS drinks tracker (iPhone app) and it doesn’t have a category for wine tasting, and as you taste more it becomes increasingly difficult to translate wine strengths and tasting measure volumes, or “standard drinks”, into “units” used in the UK.  It wasn’t until the third vineyard that I found a handy leaflet which at least told us how much was in a tasting measure:

By about the third vineyard, I’d probably had enough wine tasting for the day.  Ash and I started wandering around a cellar with a calculator working out how these people make enough money from selling wine to people like us, or from wine clubs.  “They don’t”, was the short answer from James.  I guess it’s all about the wine passion then…

The tourism side has warped some people’s minds a little.   At an ice cream place there was a no photography sign. WTF? Jono asked the question of a member of staff and she said the rule is there because the competition had been copying their designs.  Although she added “….but I don’t care”.

But if you’re out that way, I’d definely recommend heading out there.  We stayed at a lovely place in what I’d describe as the middle of nowhere, and I could have probably enjoyed another day or so there.   But I’d have to drink less wine.

A week in Filey – July 2009

As our blog was broken from around the time we got back from our holiday last July, I never got around to writing about it. So here’s a few quick thoughts about it.

This was our first holiday with Skitters. In recent years we’ve often spent our summer holidays in the UK, preferring to head further afield for snowboarding holidays. This year we would do no different. But, we did need to consider some new things. We needed it to be dog friendly (obviously), we needed it to have a garden of some description, and ideally we needed it to be somewhere we could walk the dog.

As a child I spent summer holidays on the East Coast, mostly in Bridlington but often with day trips further afield to Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay and Filey. I remember these trips with fondness, and have always had a particular soft spot for Robin Hood’s Bay. Richard had visited a few of these places with me and my family years ago, but neither of us had really explored under our own steam. Filey has a very long, sandy beach which is mostly dog friendly (only the bit closest to Filey itself isn’t) and stretches from Filey down to Hunmanby.

We found ourselves a lovely house in The Bay estate (on the grounds of the old Butlins camp) which was so dog friendly it even had dog bowls. They had a no dogs upstairs restriction which was fine as they’d provided a child gate to put on the stairs – without this we might have struggled somewhat 🙂

The Bay, Filey

The Bay estate is still being worked on, and looks to have quite a lot of space still available to it. The pub was open, and a couple of shops but there are still quite a few opportunities for development which I believe to be underway. The walk from the house to the beach was about 1km and this delivered us at a good dog-friendly stretch of beach (as long as the tide was out – at high tide there is no beach at all).

Looking towards Filey

Our adventures took us all around the area including a visit to Dane’s Dyke beach (listed on the Times list of Top 10 dog-friendly beaches) , a walk into Dalby Forest (I remember a school trip there as a child), visits to Staithes, Robin Hood’s Bay, Runswick Bay and even along a bit of the Coast to Coast walk. It was a great trip and an excellent first holiday with a dog in tow.

Skitters on Dane's Dyke beach

Runswick Bay

More photos of our adventures can be found here